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AVENGERS WIN A TITLE VICTORY PROVIDES WESTERN CROWN, PLAYOFF BERTH.

Byline: Jill Painter Staff Writer

The Avengers clinched their first Western Division title, but they kept their fans in suspense during a back- and-forth encounter with the Las Vegas Gladiators.

Rookie Michale Spicer bulled his way into the end zone, dragging defenders with him, for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:49 remaining Saturday to give the Avengers a 63-60 victory over the Gladiators before 11,873 at Staples Center.

The Avengers followed Spicer's score with a big defensive stand, stuffing Las Vegas running back Marlion Jackson for no gain on fourth and 1 at the Avengers 5 with 34 seconds left.

The Avengers are in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. By winning the title, they'll host a first-round playoff game May 29.

A playoff berth was assured before the game was over. Arizona's victory over defending Arena Football League champion San Jose was over before the Avengers' game, ensuring the Avengers would finish among the American Conference's top four teams.

Las Vegas was in desperation mode, needing to win its final two games and receive a little help to make the playoffs.

The Avengers were missing defensive specialist Antuan Simmons, on injured reserve with a foot injury, and it showed in a high-scoring affair.

In January, the Avengers fell to Las Vegas 46-37. Saturday, the teams combined for 76 points by halftime. The Avengers scored on five first-half possessions, and the Gladiators six.

Gladiators receiver Marcus Nash - once a first-round NFL draft pick - scored three touchdowns, giving him 38 this season. Nash caught a 15-yard pass, withstanding a big hit from Jermaine Smith, to give Las Vegas a 54-49 lead with 10:25 to play. Kicker Mark Lewis missed his second PAT of game, hitting the right upright for the second time.

The Gladiators tried two second-quarter onside kicks that the Avengers recovered. L.A. didn't capitalize on the first, as quarterback John Kaleo was intercepted by Marvin Taylor.

The Avengers capitalized on Las Vegas's second unsuccessful onside kick attempt, pulling ahead 35-34 on a 9-yard reception by Kevin Ingram. The Gladiators answered and led 41-35 at halftime on an 11-yard touchdown reception by former Avenger Joe Douglass with nine seconds left.

The Avengers scored on their first play of the game, a 30-yard Kaleo pass to Greg Hopkin, who made three touchdown receptions in the first half.

Jill Painter, (818)713-3615

jill.painter(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Las Vegas' Joe Douglass, left, is slowed by the Avengers' Damen Wheeler as Kevin Ingram (5) prepares to deliver a hit.

Edna T. Simpson/Daily News
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 15, 2005
Words:429
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Next Article:WRIGHT SETS TRINIDAD STRAIGHT MIDDLEWEIGHT USES JAB, DEFENSE.


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